The Rocket Boys/October Sky Festival is coming to Beckley, West Virginia the first weekend in October, just in time for peak mountain fall foliage, featuring Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys and special celebrity guest of honor Hollywood actor Chris Ellis, who played Homer’s Big Creek High School Principal Turner in the movie “October Sky.”
The Rocket Boys/October Sky Festival central location is Beckley’s New River Park, which boasts an authentic exhibition working coal mine that will be open for discounted tours, taking riders on a motorized tour 1,500 feet underground. The park also features an award-winning youth museum and planetarium, great Appalachian food, a complete full size replica of a 1950’s mining town like Coalwood, a miner’s museum, and more.
Fans of Homer Hickam’s New York Times #1 best seller “Rocket Boys” and the movie version “October Sky” will have the opportunity to enjoy free autograph signings and photo ops with actual Rocket Boys Hickam, Roy Lee Cooke, Jimmy “O’Dell” Carroll and Billy Rose and movie cast member Chris Ellis.
Mr. Ellis is one of Hollywood’s most prolific character actors; in addition to “October Sky,” Chris has appeared in dozens of movie and TV roles in his three decade career including “Apollo 13,” “Armageddon,” “Batman-The Dark Knight Rises,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Transformers,” “That Thing You Do,” “Days of Thunder,” “My Cousin Vinny,” “Law and Order,” “CSI,” “The Mentalist,” “The Office,” and more too numerous to mention.
Fans of Universal Studios “October Sky” can enjoy a special movie screening as part of the festival hosted by Ellis and the Rocket Boys. Prior to the screening, Chris will conduct an informal actor’s workshop and “Inside the Actor’s Studio” Q&A session, with behind the scenes details on the movie’s filming and how Hollywood made Coalwood come to life on the big screen.
Rocket Boys Rock & Roll
This year’s festivities will also include a Friday night “Rocket Boys Rock & Roll Caravan” presented by the Beckley Concert Association. The world famous “Bill Haley’s Comets,” the band often credited with having the first ever Rock and Roll hit, will headline the show. The Comets name was inspired by America’s 1950’s fascination with space will perform their classics including “Rock Around The Clock,” “See Ya Later Alligator,” “Shake Rattle and Roll,” and lots more. The Comets special guests will be beach music pros “The Entertainers,” direct from Elsie Hickam’s favorite spot, Myrtle Beach South Carolina! Festivalgoers will also enjoy free live music on Saturday at the Rocket Boys/October Sky Festival grounds from several artists, including the award winning bluegrass band Johnny Staats and the Delivery Boys.
The annual Rocket Boys/October Sky Festival will include a writers workshop hosted by Homer Hickam for aspiring and seasoned authors, as well as book signings from other notable writers including Dreama Denver, wife of late “Gilligan’s Island” star Bob Denver who will be signing copies of her memoir “Gilligan’s Dreams,” and Daniel Boyd, the West Virginia filmmaker (“Chillers,” “Invasion of the Space Preachers,” “Paradise Park”) and author whose latest graphic novel “Carbon” is set in the West Virginia coalfields.
Saturday evening is topped off with a huge Chili Night celebration, which annually attracts thousands of visitors to downtown Beckley. Sunday will feature a chartered bus tour to the town of Coalwood to see many of the sites featured in the book and movie, hosted by Rocket Boy Roy Lee Cooke, and includes a homemade lunch in Coalwood.
Fans of Homer Hickam’s books come in great numbers each year to get a chance to meet the New York Times #1 best selling author and see the sites and characters portrayed in his Coalwood series of memoirs. “Rocket Boys” Roy Lee Cooke, Jimmy O’Dell Carroll, Billy Rose and Hickam himself return each October to visit old and new friends and share stories of the “Coalwood Way.” Every year the crowd grows, drawing in fans both national and international as well as busloads of students from West Virginia and surrounding states. Many can be seen carrying their own treasured, often dog-eared, copy of Hickam’s “Rocket Boys,” one of the most read books in schools. Hickam’s books will be available for purchase and autographing at the festival.
One of the Rocket Boys/October Sky Festival highlights is the dozens of students from schools all over America who join Hickam and the other Rocket Boys to launch rockets at New River Park’s hilltop “Cape Coalwood” launch pad. Rocket kits and launch supplies will be available for sale at the festival. Proceeds from the sale will benefit the Rocket Boys/October Sky Festival and the local chapter of the American Red Cross.
Construction and launch is easy – even for first timers. Students from Homer Hickam’s alma mater Virginia Tech will be there to assist. NASA representatives from Goddard Space Flight Center will also be in attendance to talk rockets and space with festival-goers and provide their rocketry expertise.
Beckley, WV is located on Interstate 64 in southern West Virginia, and is also accessible via Beckley/Raleigh County Airport with daily non-stops via United Airlines to Washington Dulles airport and Amtrak service on the Cardinal line.
More information on the Rocket Boys/October Sky Festival, including a complete schedule of events and lodging information, is available online at http://www.rocketboysfestival.com.
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